Patient Privacy and Safety – Three Recent Errors Exposing Private Medical Information in 2017 and Ways to Avoid Making the Same Mistakes

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HealthWare Systems Blog

Patient Privacy and Safety – Three Recent Errors Exposing Private Medical Information in 2017 and Ways to Avoid Making the Same Mistakes

Posted on Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Learn from the recent mistakes of three healthcare facilities in order to prevent patient privacy errors and patient safety errors.

Learn from the recent mistakes of three healthcare facilities in order to prevent patient privacy errors and patient safety errors.

Protecting patient privacy by keeping patients’ personal and medical information safe is one of every healthcare company’s main concerns. There are many ways patient privacy can be compromised within the healthcare industry, and no facility or company wants to be faced with a HIPAA violation or lawsuit. The good news is that many of these patient privacy errors can be easily avoided through regular risk analysis and updating company policies.

Here are three recent errors in 2017 exposing private medical information:

May 15th, 2017: University of California Davis Health Phishing Attack, 15,000 Patients Affected

An employee of UC Davis Health responded to a phishing email with login credentials. The hacker was then able to access that employee’s account making it possible to view and obtain patient health information. Information at risk included name, address, phone number and (in some cases) diagnosis, social security number, and medical record number. The hacker also sent emails to other UC Davis Health employees, posing as the account owner and requesting fraudulent money transfers.

June 14th, 2017: Los Angeles Provider Hit by Ransomware Attack, over 260,000 Patients Affected
Pacific Alliance Medical Center’s servers were hit by a ransomware attack this June, possibly breaching private medical information of 266,123 patients. The hospital’s servers were compromised, files were encrypted, and the personal and medical information contained in the impacted servers were patients’ names, demographic details, social security numbers, dates of birth, employment information, insurance details, diagnoses, and medical images.

July 28th, 2017: Aetna Letters Publicly Revealed Patients’ HIV Status, 12,000 Patients Affected
In recent news, health insurance company Aetna accidentally revealed the HIV status of patients through a mailing error in late July. A letter was sent to 12,000 patients taking medication for HIV or taking pre-exposure medication to prevent getting the virus. The beginning of the letter informed patients about options under their Aetna plan when filling their HIV prescriptions. This personal and private medical information was visible to read without even opening the letter due to a large, transparent window on the envelope. Lawyers say some patients’ relatives and neighbors learned of their HIV status as a result.

As you can see, high numbers of patient accounts are involved any time a breach happens which can amount to several hundred thousand to several million dollars in fines. The three costly patient privacy errors mentioned above have affected over 293,000 people, and ALL three of these instances could have been avoided if proper training or extra monitoring at the facility was performed.

Here are a few ways to avoid compromising patient privacy:

1. Never send an email with sensitive information to anyone

2. Train staff on cyber security practices, stressing the importance of not opening attachments or links from unknown sources

3. Be wary of pop-ups and always use a high-quality firewall

For more tips, use these resources to learn all the ways you can protect your company’s reputation and avoid making devastating patient safety errors

Avoid Phishing Scams

Prevent Ransomware Attacks


By Samantha Willis

Addressing Health Insurance Confusion to Improve the Patient Experience

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HealthWare Systems Blog

Addressing Health Insurance Confusion to Improve the Patient Experience

Posted on Wednesday, August 23, 2017

A scattered pile of papers that contribute to health insurance confusion.

Patients can become overwhelmed by health insurance confusion.

Health insurance confusion is a major barrier to a good patient experience.

Hospitals are no strangers to the headaches that come with insurance reimbursement issues. Dealing with health insurance is hard enough for staff trained in the subject.  Imagine the confusion your patients must face when they receive a medical bill or attempt to estimate what a medical service will cost them.

Unfortunately, health insurance illiteracy is becoming an increasing problem in our country; a 2013 American Institute of CPAs survey estimates that over half (51%) of U.S. adults cannot correctly identify at least one of three basic insurance terms (“premium,” “deductible,” and “copay”) and the U.S. Department of Education finds only 12% of adults proficiently health literate.

Acknowledging health insurance confusion and making this aspect of a patient’s visit easier can improve the patient experience and has many advantages for your facility, too.

In fact, a recent study by Lavidge had consumers rank healthcare marketing phrases by preference, with the phrase “We will handle all insurance matters for you” coming in second place. If you can make and fulfill this claim, you’ll attract and keep more patients and increase patient satisfaction.

But don’t stop there; consider going a step further by helping your patients apply for financial assistance as well. Many patients are unaware of the programs available to them, or that they may qualify for assistance. Think of how much more you can improve the patient experience if you simplify insurance AND the financial assistance application process for your patients. (HealthWare’s ActiveASSIST is a great tool for managing and tracking the entire financial assistance process.)

Patient satisfaction is not all that’s at stake, however; health insurance confusion can also cause patients to avoid medical care in the first place or lead them into medical debt. According to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, a major reason that 42.9 million Americans have unpaid medical bills is that they are confused about what they owe and why.

Alleviating patients’ health insurance confusion will vastly improve the patient experience at your facility, encourage patients to seek the care they need, and ultimately help you get paid.


By Stephanie Salmich

Go Green to Reduce Hospital Waste & Lower Hospital Costs (Part 2 of 2)

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HealthWare Systems Blog

Go Green to Reduce Hospital Waste & Lower Hospital Costs (Part 2 of 2)

Posted on Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Last week we discussed the effects of staff education on helping you reduce hospital waste and lower hospital costs. Below are two more strategies to help you achieve these goals.

“Green” Supplies

"Green" supplies can lower hospital costs in the long run.

“Green” supplies can lower hospital costs in the long run.

Many hospitals have increased their use of disposable medical supplies that hamper hospital and environmental sustainability efforts.  Health facilities can be drawn to single-use items that seem more convenient and cheaper upfront, but may cost more than “greener,” reusable items in the long run.

Practice Greenhealth’s Cost of Ownership Calculator can help you compare products and choose those with the lowest costs and smallest environmental impact.  This tool looks beyond the price tag of an item to examine every cost a hospital will incur during the “acquisition, use, maintenance, and disposal” of the product over its lifetime.

There are some items that you cannot avoid purchasing in disposable form, due to patient safety concerns and health regulations.  But where possible, reprocessed equipment can reduce hospital waste and lower hospital costs.


Paperless Healthcare Solutions

Besides tossing disposable supplies, how much paper is your facility throwing out?  From completing registration paperwork and consent forms, to obtaining physician referrals and third party documents, hospitals are responsible for a great deal of paper consumption.  Fortunately, there are paperless healthcare solutions for managing each of these tasks:

1. You can automate patient registration by setting up a paperless registration system that is better for the environment and makes the registration process more accurate and efficient.

2. With an electronic healthcare forms library, there is no need to stockpile pre-printed forms that may go unused. Any form can be easily printed on-demand and updates to forms can be made electronically and in real-time, saving you from the cost and waste of destroying old versions that can no longer be used due to new revisions.  The need for blue cards and labels is also eliminated thanks to barcode automation.  Patients can even sign consent forms using electronic signature on electronic healthcare forms.

3. A physician order management system can help you electronically organize all incoming orders and referrals, regardless of source. Read here how one hospital reduced its paper usage by 1.3 million pages per year and eliminated 18,333 folders by going paperless with the solution ActiveXCHANGE.

Not only will these strategies help you reduce hospital waste and lower hospital costs, but they will also increase your appeal to today’s consumers and top job candidates who are attracted to organizations that practice corporate social responsibility.  Establishing environmentally-friendly policies and procedures is an excellent way to do your part in protecting our world while also ensuring the sustainability of your own facility.

Editor’s Note: This is Part 2 of a two-part blog series.


By Stephanie Salmich

Go Green to Reduce Hospital Waste & Lower Hospital Costs (Part 1 of 2)

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HealthWare Systems Blog

Go Green to Reduce Hospital Waste & Lower Hospital Costs (Part 1 of 2)

Posted on Wednesday, August 9, 2017

There is a dire need to reduce hospital waste.  The U.S. healthcare industry is accountable for 8% of our country’s carbon dioxide emissions, according to a study featured in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), and estimates of its waste production are as high as 5.9 million tons of garbage each year.

Going green is not only good for the environment, but also for your healthcare facility’s bottom line.  Researchers at the University of Illinois Chicago project the healthcare industry could save more than $5.4 billion over five years and $15 billion over 10 years by adopting more sustainable practices.

Below is one strategy to consider to help your facility reduce hospital waste and lower hospital costs:

Staff Education

A recent study of surgeries performed at UCSF Medical Center, published in the Journal of Neurosurgery, found that a startling number of packaged surgical supplies were opened but ended up unused and then thrown out after surgery.  The researchers calculated that these wasted medical supplies could cost UCSF $2.9 million dollars a year, and that only accounts for the waste from one department.

Providing price transparency for your medical staff can reduce hospital waste and lower hospital costs.

Providing price transparency for your medical staff can reduce hospital waste and lower hospital costs.

You can reduce hospital waste by ensuring your medical staff handle their supplies in the most cost-effective and environmentally-friendly way possible.

To help doctors better gauge their role in hospital spending, the authors of the UCSF study recommend providing them with feedback on the costs of their procedures compared to the costs of their peers’.  This can also motivate doctors to reach a higher level of performance at a lower cost than a colleague or the potential competition.

 

Additionally, they suggest assessing surgeons’ lists of requested instruments on their preference cards before their procedures, eliminating nonessential items, and advising which ones should only be opened as needed (rather than at the start of the procedure) so that they can be saved for future use if unopened.

Many physicians are unaware of the cost of their equipment, but once enlightened, they find ways to use less expensive tools to do the same job.  Canadian hospitals are seeing huge savings using this tactic.  According to the National Post, Toronto Western’s neurosurgeons decreased their spending on disposables by 30% and saved $750,000 in the timespan of four months.

Providing price transparency for your medical staff can pay major dividends, and their economical approach to medical supply use offers the added benefits of lowering patients’ bills and enabling your facility to treat more patients as well.

In next week’s blog, we will offer two more strategies to help you reduce hospital waste and lower hospital costs.

Editor’s Note: This is Part 1 of a two-part blog series.


By Stephanie Salmich